Robert Schumann

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About Robert Schumann

If any composer epitomizes the spirit of 19th-century German Romanticism, it is Robert Schumann. Born in 1810 in Zwickau, he was a solitary, dreamy child who at first thought of being a poet. Music took possession of him later, and in his twenties he devoted himself with astonishing single-mindedness to learning the art of composition, producing nothing but piano music for nearly 10 years, including the dark and intoxicating cycle Kreisleriana (1838). A love affair with the brilliant young pianist-composer Clara Wieck, long thwarted by her possessive father, culminated in marriage in 1840 and a sudden outpouring of song, including the exquisite cycles Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe. The relationship was strong, but Schumann’s instability remained alarming. Periods of intense creativity would alternate with terrible mental crises, sometimes resulting in artistic paralysis. After the wildly experimental, dazzlingly imaginative piano music of his youth, Schumann attempted to stabilize his course by tackling such well-established forms as the symphony, concerto, oratorio, and large-scale chamber music, but his uniquely lateral way of thinking—sometimes amusingly quirky, sometimes demonic—always reasserted itself. In 1854, a spell of elation tipped over into mania, and after his attempt to drown himself in the River Rhine he was committed to an asylum near Bonn, where he died alone in 1856.

Zwickau, Germany
June 8, 1810

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